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Iconic pieces get a facelift
"YOU cannot plan for these things," muses Tino Bobe, A Lange & Sohne's director of manufacturing, when asked for his opinion on what makes a watch iconic. "The design, the innovation and the social environment - all these things need to happen together at the right place and the right time for an iconic watch to be born."
But one thing is certain, though. Once a watch becomes truly iconic, its stature and desirability hardly ever fades. Lange, for instance, has quite a few of such timepieces in its repertoire - the most recognisable of which is the Lange One, introduced 22 years ago and a top-seller for the brand ever since. After numerous permutations that saw the collection endowed with various complications spanning tourbillons to moonphases, the Lange 1 gets a subtle, almost unnoticeable upgrade this year.
Clad in a new white gold cloak, in a 38.5mm case that recalls the original, the latest version is also fitted with a recent in-house hand-wound movement bearing improvements that would only be discernable to Lange fans, such as instantaneous date jump at midnight, and a feature that moves the seconds hand to the "12" position when the power reserve depletes, which allows for accurate time-setting. Tiny and indiscernible tweaks, for sure, but where fans of the Lange One are concerned, this white gold version is primed to be red-hot.
Here's the thing about reworked evergreen timepieces - less is often more. Also, historical references work. In fact, the closer the reissue looks to the original, the better. Rolex's new Cosmograph Daytona, arguably the most coveted watch of 2016, illustrates this to great effect. The new version's steel case-black bezel combination is a throwback to the iconic and hugely popular Ref 6240 vintage Daytona from 1965, making it a coming of full circle of sorts for the collection. "Daytona fans have been waiting for this for quite a while," says Ronald Chew, a Rolex enthusiast.
While far from a rehash - the new Daytona is fitted with a modern corrosion- and scratch-resistant Cerachrom bezel, and powered by the in-house Calibre 4130 with enhanced performance rating boasting -2/+2 seconds accuracy per day - the iconic sports watch bears enough ties to the past that renders it both familiar and instantly desirable.
"It's a design that has been proven to stand the test of time," says Mr Chew, who adds that he prefers reissues of evergreen models to "look as close to the original as possible".
Besides Rolex, the likes of Audemars Piguet, Breitling, Omega and TAG Heuer have also rolled out new iterations of their iconic sports models, ensuring sports watch lovers with a taste for nostalgia are well-catered to this year.
The Royal Oak, introduced in 1972 and a bankable cash cow for Audemars Piguet ever since, gets its annual update with a rash of yellow-gold models. Elsewhere, Breitling issued a 1,000-piece limited edition grey dial version of its legendary Navitimer pilot's watch, launched in 1952 and pretty much propelled the brand's path as a go-to for aviation-themed timepieces.
Meanwhile, TAG Heuer revisits the famous Monza collection on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, loaded with aesthetic references like the coussin case, pulsometer scale, and vintage font that faithfully replicates the original. Last but not least, Omega offers the Speedmaster CK2998 Limited Edition, a replica of a model from 1959, featuring the same design and colour codes of the original, as well as the Calibre 1861, the same movement that was used in the original "moon watch", the Speedmaster that was the first timepiece worn on the lunar surface in 1969.
"With updates, there is always a challenge between making enough changes to keep the update contemporary, and keeping the elements that make the watch iconic and well-loved by the fans," says Christian Selmoni, artistic director of Vacheron Constantin, who was tasked to update the Overseas collection, introduced in 1996, for 2016. The result, as Mr Selmoni describes, treads a fine line between the past and present.
The signature profile of the original Overseas watches is kept very much intact in the new models, which sports softer edges for a modern touch.
Elsewhere, technical enhancements include a new feature that allows users to easier swap watch bracelets for rubber straps, as new Geneva Seal-certified in-house movements spanning automatic calibres, to chronograph and multi-time zone complications.
Another evergreen icon that is celebrating its birthday in a big way this year is Jaeger-LeCoultre's Reverso collection. Famous for its reversible case, created for polo players back in 1931 who wanted a watch that can be protected from the rigours of the sport, the 85-year-old Reverso collection shows it has plenty of life left in its tank. Three lines are offered to commemorate the milestone, each expressing different facets of the collection. There is the "Classic", featuring minor tweaks to the evergreen Reverso profile; "One", a special range for women; and "Tribute", which takes the original's dimensions and loads it with new complications.
Tom Chng, a fan of Jaeger-LeCoultre, cites the Reverso's timeless design as its most enduring quality, and is personally drawn to its "brilliant adaptation of the golden ratio that has fascinated men for over two millenniums".
And even though he appreciates how the reworked Reverso watches have forged an indelible link to their origins, Mr Chng is of the opinion that even the most iconic watches ought to be "periodically updated as technology progresses" to improve performance and functionality.
"The DNA of iconic watches should remain, but it's the tweaks over the years that make them interesting," says Mr Chng. From what we can tell so far, it seems like the brands are right on the money on that count.
- The writer is the editor-in-chief of Crown watch magazine and its website (www.crownwatchblog.com)